Over the past week, Barlow had started giving Alyssa increasingly more difficult tasks. Alyssa had risen to the challenge wonderfully, much to Barlow’s pleasure. Now she walked in happily, brushing the bangs out of her eyes.
But something was off.
Everyone inside was panicking, running around, yelling, wide-eyed and scared. Finally, Barlow bellowed “Quiet!” at the top of his lungs, making everyone stop.
“We have to keep our heads!” Barlow told everyone. “Crawford, you and I will go to the school. Rookies, patrol the beach.”
“What’s going on?” Alyssa asked.
“Bomb threat at the Ranger School,” Ian told her, appearing beside her. “And Barlow doesn’t think we can handle it.”
“Bomb threat?” Alyssa snapped suddenly. “It’s summer vacation! Who’s there?”
“They’re doing a sort of student orientation thing at the moment,” Luanne piped up. “People just coming into the school are there, touring and such.”
“But…that means…” Alyssa looked up at Ian, who nodded.
“Yep. The school is full of small children right now.”
Children entered the Ranger School at age five, and they continued their education on up till age sixteen. Except for the occasional transfer, students at the school grew up together.
“Who put in the threat?” Alyssa demanded.
“Some group of weirdos dressed as spacemen,” Barlow replied. “They call themselves Team Galactic. Crawford and I need to get down there now. Ian, Alyssa, you two patrol the beach— cut off their escape.”
“They won’t need the beach to escape! There’s water by the school! They could have a boat there!” Ian said angrily.
“Do what I say,” Barlow snarled.
“What about me?” Luanne asked.
“You stay here and guard the base.”
“Your Partner Pokémon is a Buneary,” Barlow said, pointing out the little Pokémon beside her. “It’s useless. Come on, Crawford!”
“Come on, Alyssa.” Ian angrily turned and left the base, heading for the beach.
“This is stupid!” Alyssa cried, kicking sand up. Ziggy used Sand Attack in imitation. “There’s a bomb threat on our school, and we can’t even help!”
Ian growled in response and ran the fingers of both hands furiously through his hair, seeming to pull at it as he got near the back. “What kind of a sick weirdo threatens a school full of children?” he grumbled. Prinplup muttered angrily in reply before waddling off toward the ocean.
Alyssa squinted up at the sky, which was a clear, peaceful blue. She imagined it full of smoke, a mushroom cloud blossoming in the distance. “I feel so useless,” she said finally, trying to rid herself of the images.
“Me too.” Ian sighed and plopped down on the sand, propping his elbows up on his knees. “There’s no way we can help at all. If we try to go over to the school ourselves, we’ll probably just end up getting in Barlow and Crawford’s way.” He pushed his face into his hand, closing his eyes. “And…what if they blow up the school?” he said quietly after a long pause. “What if…all those children get badly burned? Or worse…what if they die?”
Alyssa wrapped her arms around her stomach. “Barlow and Crawford will know what to do,” she said forcefully, trying to reassure herself. Silence descended upon them for a while before Alyssa found the courage to speak again. “Um…Ian? Is…is this the kind of thing you have to deal with a lot?”
“This worry? The fear of…death?”
He nodded again.
“Is this a big part of being a Ranger?”
“It’s a huge part of being a Ranger.” Ian dropped his hand from his face. “I didn’t expect it, but the worry…it’s intense. It’s exciting, sure, but the danger isn’t always just yours, just something you face, alone. Often, people and Pokémon are in danger, too. Oh, and you know how everyone tells you that all Pokémon are good?” He glanced sideways up at her, waiting for her to nod. When she did, he continued. “Don’t believe that. There are mean Pokémon. Evil Pokémon. A lot of being a Ranger is un-learning some things you learned. Did you hear that?” he snapped suddenly, springing to his feet.
Alyssa’s head was still reeling with the term evil Pokémon. “No,” she replied.
Ian shushed her. After a few seconds of silence, she heard it, too— voices, faint shouting, coming from Vientown.
“Who is it?” Alyssa asked.
“No one I recognize. It might be best to hide.” He ran past her, grabbing her and pulling her along by her wrist. “Prinplup! Underwater!”
Prinplup ducked quickly under the water; Ziggy followed Alyssa and Ian into the crazily-growing shrubbery by the entrance of Marine Cave. Alyssa pulled the Zigzagoon into her lap as she crouched down, peering out at the beach.
About ten or fifteen people came rushing onto the sand, all dressed in strange spacesuits with short, bright blue hair. A G could clearly be seen on their chests.
The leader was a man of about twenty; he led the pack across the beach, yelling, “To the hideout!” They sped right past Alyssa and Ian’s hiding spot, jostling and shouting as they disappeared into the cave. The leader at the front yelled for order, but no one listened.
After they were gone, Alyssa and Ian glanced at each other. “We have to go in after them,” Alyssa whispered.
The two Rangers made their way stealthily after Team Galactic, who led them deeper and deeper into Marine Cave. Stalagmites and stalactites jutted up from the floor and down from the ceiling, dripping water.
Finally, Team Galactic arrived at their hideout. It was a huge cavern that seemed as though it had been here naturally, but Galactic had done a few things to it; it was coated with what Alyssa was sure was a soundproof metal, and the cave floor had obviously been flattened. On the far side of the cavern, the floor ended and water began. What looked like several submarines floated in a makeshift harbor. Even more members of Team Galactic teemed throughout the hideout, doing various tasks with Pokémon.
“Listen!” shouted the leader as he entered the cave; Ian pulled Alyssa behind a boulder. “The Rangers thwarted our plan. I’m not sure how long we have to get out, because they may have followed us. We’ll have to destroy the hideout. Load up the submarines!”
An explosion of activity ensued; Alyssa and Ian watched intently as they loaded up. “How do they plan to destroy this place?”
“With a Galactic Bomb.”
The two whirled around; they were being watched. A man stood before them. He had dark blue hair that looked quite like cat-ears, and his outfit looked different from the rest of Team Galactic’s. His shirt and pants were relatively simple, yet still had that stupid spaceman look to them.
“Well…if we don’t have some intruders.”
“Who are you?” Ian snapped. Ziggy pressed against Alyssa’s legs fearfully.
“I am Commander Saturn. But perhaps you aren’t in the right position to be asking such questions.”
Alyssa launched herself at Saturn; he was too surprised to fight back. She knocked him to the ground and put a hand over his mouth. “Ian, we have to get out of here!” she said.
“Right,” Ian replied. “But if they use a bomb to blow up the cavern, they’ll kill hundreds of Pokémon. They’re too deep underground for an explosion to bother anyone in Vientown.”
“What do we do? Stop struggling,” Alyssa said crossly to Saturn, and she picked up his head and banged it against the cave floor. His eyes crossed and he fell still. She stood up, dusting herself off.
“Well, we can take him in as a prisoner,” Ian said, gesturing towards Saturn. “My bet is they won’t set off the bomb until everyone’s accounted for, so…”
“But they’ll come looking for him. He’s a commander. There’s only two of us, Ian! There’s, like, a million of them! It’s not like we can fight them off.”
“We need backup or something…I’ll see if I can get a signal on my Styler. I can use it to contact the base.” He pulled out his Styler and began fiddling with it. Alyssa looked around worriedly as he did so, making sure no one came near. After a while, Ian sighed. “I can’t get a signal,” he told her. “It’s too far underground. Alyssa…we’re on our own.”
Alyssa raked her fingers through her hair, effectively messing up her ponytail. “Okay…okay. Options. What are our options?”
“We could run away,” Ian said, “and not do anything, and let hundreds of Pokémon die.”
“Okay, Option Number One—do nothing. Vetoed. We won’t take it.”
“We could run in there and make demands.”
“Option Number Two—suicide. Vetoed.”
“We could…uh…run out of here and grab as many Pokémon as we can.”
“Option Number Three— do what we can. Possible.”
Ian fell silent. Alyssa frowned. “We have to have more options than that,” she said. “Okay, how about this. One of us runs up and tries to get a signal on the Styler while grabbing as many Pokémon as we can. The other stays here and watches to see when they set up the bomb. I’m sure they’ll clear out of the cavern before they detonate it, so whoever’s here will run out and try to disarm it.”
“Option Number Four—partial suicide,” Ian said.
“We could steal his outfit.” Alyssa pointed to Saturn. “We could pose as a member of Galactic and…do something. Why is this so hard?”
“Wait!” cried the leader from before. Alyssa and Ian turned as he cried out, listening worriedly. “Has anyone seen Commander Saturn?”
There was a chorus of “No, sir!” from the members. The leader yelled out two names; two identical people came out of the crowd. Why did all the members of Team Galactic look exactly the same? “Go up the passage. See if we’re being followed and look for Commander Saturn.”
“Dammit,” Ian mumbled. He grabbed hold of Saturn’s feet. “We have to hide him.”
Alyssa scooped her hands under the man’s armpits and lifted; they stuffed his limp body behind a nearby boulder, arranging him so that none of him would show. She and Ian then hid in their original hiding place, scrambling to get out of sight as the two members of Team Galactic came passing through.
“D’you hear something?” asked one as they passed Ian and Alyssa’s boulder.
“No,” the other one replied. Then he stopped. “What the hell is that? Is that a hand?”
Alyssa almost said a very dirty word. Saturn’s arm had fallen in such a way that his hand was visible. The two Galactic grunts rushed toward him. “It’s Commander Saturn!” cried one of them. “Oh my God, he’s unconscious! This means we’ve been followed. There are intruders!”
“Help me carry him,” said the other. “SIR!”
The two grunts waddled off carrying Saturn’s body between them, the head lolling on its shoulder.
Saturn’s unconscious body caused a huge commotion. “We have no time to waste! Set up the bomb now! Return your Pokémon to their Poké Balls! Leave what you have unless it’s marked top priority; get in your assigned submarine! Numbers one through fifty, Submarine A! Numbers fifty-one through one hundred, Submarine B! Numbers— ”
The leader continued to call out submarine assignments. “We can’t do anything,” Alyssa said. “We can’t stop the bomb.”
“We could disarm it once they’ve left,” Ian suggested.
“But what if it’s a remote detonator?” Alyssa asked. “We won’t have any way of knowing how much time we have.”
Ian closed his eyes and pressed his face into his hands. He stood like that for what seemed like ages. Finally, he lowered his hands and looked sadly over at Alyssa.
“Option Number Three,” he said faintly.
Alyssa sighed. “I wish we could do more,” she said.
She tightened her ponytail and pulled out her Styler. “Things are going to get crazy,” she told Ziggy. “Okay…how about this. We’ll have to keep checking our Stylers. When we get signal, we’ll contact the base.”
“Oh God…we were followed.”
Not again, Alyssa thought as she turned to see a grunt, a man of about twenty. “Ziggy, Headbutt!”
Ziggy did so, launching himself at the man. “Ian, can you carry him?” Alyssa asked as Ziggy’s head made contact with the man’s stomach. His head cracked against the cave wall.
“Yeah, I’ll get him. We’ll take him to the base for questioning.”
The next few moments were spent running around and capturing as many Pokémon as they could; of course, they had a limit of seven. After they reached that, they had to physically grab wild Pokémon. Ziggy and the seven others that Alyssa had with her tried to communicate the danger to the other Pokémon, so Alyssa and Ian, after a while, were running with a giant crowd of Pokémon all around them; Zubats flew overhead, Geodudes levitated around them and past them, Poliwhirls with baby Poliwags clutched in their arms ran around them, with one Poliwrath bellowing as they passed.
“I got signal!” Ian cried joyously.
“It’s too late,” mumbled the grunt. He was being carried by a Graveler. Both Ian and Alyssa looked at him. “The bomb…will be going off soon…”
“How do you know?” Ian asked.
“We don’t waste time…”
And then they heard it; the great boom! that resounded beneath their feet, from behind them, all around them. The walls of the cave began to shake; in one huge mass, the Pokémon pushed upward and out. Ziggy leapt onto Alyssa’s back and hung there as the Pokémon seemed to sweep her along. Even if she wanted to go back, Alyssa couldn’t; the Pokémon were carrying her now. The Poliwrath, determined to help her because she had helped its family, held her up over his head as he bellowed to the other Pokémon in the cave that may not have heard.
The mass pushed along the cave passageways; the entire cave was still shaking. The bomb had triggered major collapses.
After what seemed like forever, the cave stopped shaking and the mob of Pokémon stopped moving. Poliwrath gently set Alyssa down; she and Ian released their Pokémon, and there was a new commotion as they all gathered, shrieking and calling to make sure their families were all present and accounted for.
Ian and Alyssa made their way to each other. “I’m calling Barlow,” Ian said, holding up his Styler. Alyssa nodded.
“I’m gonna go back as far as I can to see if I can help anyone.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Ian said. “Don’t— Alyssa, dammit, come back here!”
But Alyssa was leaping deftly over rocks and contracting the help of Pokémon as she went.
Some caverns had been empty, thanks to Alyssa and Ian’s efforts…but Alyssa found dead Pokémon in the remnants of other caverns. She placed a hand over her mouth as she and her entourage of Gravelers picked their way through the cave. After a while of seeing nothing but dead Geodudes, dead Zubats, dead Poliwhirls, Alyssa gave up. Ziggy, noticing her sorrow, nudged his nose into her cheek.
Right as she was about to turn back, Alyssa caught sight of something. She bent and shifted a rock to take a closer look, but stepped back immediately; it was a dead Poliwag, just a baby. Alyssa’s eyes filled with tears; the Gravelers gathered around her and stared at the little baby.
When Alyssa came back up, Ziggy was still riding her back, and she had the dead Poliwag in her arms. Ian ran to her, ready to scold her, until he saw her expression and the way she slumped visibly as she walked. I must look terrible, she thought; she knew that dirt and debris had gotten all over her, and now tears had left grimy tracks down her cheeks.
Ian stood in front of her and put a hand on the Poliwag’s stomach. “Are they all…?”
Alyssa looked up from the little Poliwag’s face. “No survivors.”
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Subject: This is hard…
Being a Ranger is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I can’t give you all the details right now…I’m too shaken up. But Team Galactic set off a bomb in Marine Cave and killed a bunch of Pokémon. Ian and I saved as many as we could, but…we couldn’t save all of them. I’m very sad. I don’t even think I’d ever thought about Pokémon dying.
By the way, did you get Belle’s last email? It didn’t seem like she was feeling very well. I hope she’s okay.
Love from the sad,